Friday, January 17, 2014

Food Safety

If you have ever suffered from food poisoning (as I have), you may perhaps have a greater appreciation for the fact that had the cooking staff handled our food properly, the violent physical reactions that resulted might have been avoided. I'm sure we'd all agree that food safety is important, but oftentimes that which we expect in restaurants isn't necessarily adhered to at home.

In food safety courses that professional kitchen staff are required to take, the most important concept they'll learn is that hot food should be kept hot (140 degrees F.) and cold food should be kept cold (40 degrees F.).  For those of us cooking at home, it is equally important to keep in mind. But sometimes this is not entirely feasible, such as during a party where food is left out for a few hours. This is ok, as long as most everything is either thrown out or refrigerated, if appropriate, after 2 hours.

Keep these pointers in mind when cooking at home:

Wash hands
Washing hands often throughout the cooking process is a good idea. Using a fresh kitchen towel every day is also smart.

The way in which we thaw meat is important. Oftentimes I hear of people thawing theirs on the counter. Though this makes sense from a time perspective, it is not what's recommended. Thawing in the refrigerator will take longer but it's the safest way to do it. You'll just need to think ahead a little more. 

Cooking meats to the proper temperature is also very important to ensure that they are not only cooked all the way through but that you've killed any bacteria that might be on the meat. See the links below for guides on how high different types of meats should be cooked. Any good oven thermometer will tell you as well. Though I've seen on cooking shows sometimes that raw meat should be washed, I've also read that that practice can sometimes spread bacteria faster. I need to research this more. One source told me that meats should be immersed for 15-20 minutes in a diluted bleach solution to kill any bacteria. Though I cannot imagine putting bleach anywhere near my food to be a good idea, I do see how it could be a good bacteria preventer.

Eggs are incredibly unsanitary. After handling raw eggs, wash hands before touching anything else in the kitchen, especially food. Throw your shells in your compost pile.

I'm always amazed at how many people don't adequately wash their fruits and vegetables. Though you can't get rid of pesticides entirely by washing them, you can get rid of some. And if nothing else, think of all the people that have touched that produce before you have: the grower, the picker, the buyer, the supermarket employee, the cashier who handles money (and that's all I can think of, there may even be more). Even organic produce needs to be washed. In fact, even more so than conventional produce. Organics sometimes have levels of naturally occurring bacteria on them that are killed off by the pesticides on conventional produce. Sometimes people can get sick from unwashed organic produce. There are several fruit and veggie washes you can buy. They are usually low-sud soaps that you want to immerse your produce in and then rinse well.

Cutting boards
Any cutting surfaces that are used to prepare raw meat should be cleaned in one of two ways: either with hot soapy water (ideally in the dishwasher where it gets really hot), or with a diluted bleach solution that can be sprayed on the cutting board. I use two separate boards: one (plastic) for meats that I can stick in the dishwasher, and the other (bamboo) for fruits and vegetables that gets washed by hand.

It probably goes without saying that knives used for raw meat should not be then used for vegetables. Use separate knives and wash them all well in hot, soapy water. While it would be great to stick knives in the dishwasher, where it can get nice and hot in there, you don't want to subject your knives to that kind of torture, especially if you spent good money on your knives.

Allow cooked foods to cool briefly after dinner and then put them away in containers and refrigerate. Do not leave food out overnight.

Sampling food
Ok, we've all done it: taken a spoon to try something and sticking it back in the pot. But yikes, not very hygienic! Better to take a new spoon for each sample and toss the used one into the dishwasher. In fact, I'll never forget this idiotic boss I once had when I worked in Catering. He came to my buffet to check it out before the guests arrived and stuck his knuckle in the soup to try it. I nearly fell over! If he had "double-dipped", I likely would have sent the soup back.

To avoid food poisoning from bacteria on foods,  using common sense and a few ideas from the following sites can be a big step towards practicing good food safety procedures.

For some good online resources, check out the following:

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